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# Vector fields

## Based on lecture notes by James McKernan

Blackboard 1. Let A Rn be an open subset. A vector field on A is function
F~ : A Rn .
One obvious way to get a vector field is to take the gradient of a differentiable
function. If f : A R, then
f : A Rn ,
is a vector field.
Blackboard 2. A vector field F~ : A Rn is called a gradient (aka conservative) vector field if F~ = f for some differentiable function f : A R.
Example 3. Let
F~ : R3 {0} R3 ,
be the vector field
F~ (x, y, z) =

(x2

cx
cy
cz

+ 2
+ 2
k,
2
3/2
2
2
3/2
2
+ +z )
(x + y + z )
(x + y + z 2 )3/2
y2

## for some constant c. Then F~ (x, y, z) is the gradient of

f : R3 {0} R,
given by
f (x, y, z) =

c
.
(x2 + y 2 + z 2 )1/2

So F~ is a conservative vector field. Notice that if c < 0 then F~ models the gravitational force and f is the potential (note that unfortunately mathematicians and
physicists have different sign conventions for f ).
Proposition 4. If F~ is a conservative vector field and F~ is C 1 function, then
Fj
Fi
=
,
xj
xi
for all i and j between 1 and n.
Proof. If F~ is conservative, then we may find a differentiable function f : A Rn
such that
f
Fi =
.
xi
As Fi is C 1 for each i, it follows that f is C 2 . But then
Fi
2f
=
xj
xj xi
2f
xi xj
Fj
=
.
xi
=

Notice that (4) is a negative result; one can use it show that various vector fields
are not conservative.
1

Example 5. Let
F~ : R2 R2

## F~ (x, y) = (y, x).

given by

Then

F1
= 1
y
So F~ is not conservative.
Example 6. Let
F~ : R2 R2

and

F2
= 1 6= 1.
x

## F~ (x, y) = (y, x + y).

given by

Then

F2
= 1,
x

F1
=1
and
y
so F~ might be conservative. Lets try to find
f : R2 R

such that

## If f exists, then we must have

f
f
=y
and
= x + y.
x
y
If we integrate the first equation with respect to x, then we get
f (x, y) = xy + g(y).
Note that g(y) is not just a constant but it is a function of y. There are two ways
to see this. One way, is to imagine that for every value of y, we have a separate
differential equation. If we integrate both sides, we get an arbitrary constant c. As
we vary y, c varies, so that c = g(y) is a function of y. On the other hand, if to
take the partial derivatives of g(y) with respect to x, then we get 0. Now we take
xy + g(y) and differentiate with respect to y, to get
x+y =

(xy + g(y))
dg
=x+
(y).
y
dy

So
g 0 (y) = y.
Integrating both sides with respect to y we get
g(y) = y 2 /2 + c.
It follows that
(xy + y 2 /2) = (y, x + y),
so that F~ is conservative.